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Breaking down the buzzer-beater: Bennett, teammates had confidence in Beekman on big shot

Reece Beekman game winner
Reece Beekman is chased by teammates after hitting the game-winning shot that beat Syracuse in the 2021 ACC Tournament. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Jim Boeheim could live with Reece Beekman taking the last shot for Virginia. As it turns out, so could Tony Bennett.

“I said, Kihei, just attack the lane. Maybe a quick little ball screen where we tried a few sets, and they get on it. But I thought it was terrific what he did, Kihei. And I can’t tell you, so happy for Reece,” Bennett said after Beekman’s three had lifted UVA to a 72-69 win over Syracuse in the 2021 ACC Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.

So, OK, Bennett didn’t draw up the final play to get the ball to Beekman.

Primarily because Beekman was 11-of-48 – 22.9 percent – on two- and three-point jumpers in 696 minutes of playing time in 24 games this season at the moment Clark found him on the right wing as wide open as the term would seem to imply.

This why Boeheim had instructed his players to keep their eyes on Clark driving the lane, on Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III wherever they were – corners, wings – on Jay Huff on the baseline.

“Beekman is the one we want to shoot it there,” Boeheim said. “We don’t want to give anybody a shot, but he’s the one guy we would want to shoot it. He hasn’t made a three, he’s not a good three-point shooter. But that’s the way it goes, he knocked it down, and that’s to his credit.”

Beekman had not hit a shot all afternoon, and his first three was like one of those bad first pitches you see on YouTube where the celebrity hits the mascot in the nether regions.

It was that bad – Beekman’s shot was flat, only got about nine and a half feet up, and airballed several feet past the rim.

From that point on, the freshman was barely a passing thought on the perimeter for Syracuse defenders, who sagged off Beekman to take away his dribble-drives.

To his credit, he made one of the plays of the game for Virginia off a dribble-drive, getting into the lane to find a wide-open Hauser in the corner for a splash three that put the ‘Hoos up three with 5:22 to go.

“He got more aggressive, maybe not so much shooting, but attacking a little more in the second half, and he was playing pretty good defense at times, which we had to have,” Bennett said. “But that zone is tough if you’re not making shots or you’re not real confident. You even saw Sam and Trey, they were having a hard time, and they kept shooting. But when you’re not going to take a lot, it can mess with you.”

You had to think that Beekman was as surprised as anybody when Clark pitched it out to him after touching the paint.

But actually, what he was thinking was:

“Just knowing that my teammates believed in me is what really helped,” Beekman said. “They kept saying the whole game, keep shooting, keep playmaking, just be yourself. A lot of the confidence there, just keep trying to make me confident, that really helped, too.”

Beekman has revealed himself this season to be an elite on-ball defender, and you can see elite playmaker in him – but the playmaker part will only come once he can consistently knock down jumpers.

Once he can show opponents that he can knock down jumpers, they won’t be able to sag off him to cut down on his forays into the paint.

All bets are off when he gets that jumper down, basically.

Kid will shoot a thousand jumpers a day this summer into the fall, and then, watch out.

You may look back on this game-winning three in a couple of years and say, this is when it happened for him.

“Yeah, I think it could be a confidence booster for him,” said Hauser, who finished with 21 points, 14 in the second half, and knows about confidence in hitting big shots.

“I mean, we all have confidence in him. Every time he’s open we’re telling him to shoot. If they’re not going in, we’re still going to tell him to shoot if he’s open because we have that much confidence in him. If he keeps shooting they’re eventually going to fall,” Hauser said.

“He stuck with it. He knew he had to shoot it. He was open. He shot it in rhythm. He’s one of those kids that just keeps coming back. If he gets knocked down he keeps getting up. Great player, happy for Reece.”

For a guy who was a consensus Top 50 recruit, you’d assume he had a game-winner on his resume somewhere, but, nope.

“I was just thinking, it’s a big shot,” Beekman said. “My coaches, everybody believed in me, so they wouldn’t have me out there for no reason. So I just had to – it was a big shot I had to make, and I had to step up.

“It’s crazy. That was my first ever like game-winner, walk-off game-winner. So just hitting one of those for my team, it meant a lot. It was a whole lot of excitement, just a lot of energy that just came over me. And a lot of joy. That’s what I can say about that,” Beekman said.

Story by Chris Graham


augusta free press
augusta free press